Mercury Poisoning and ADHD

What does Mad Hatter have to do with Mercury Poisoning?

We are all familiar with the "Mad Hatter" character in Lewis Carroll's book Alice in Wonderland, and we’ve heard of the phrase “mad as a hatter”. So what’s the story behind these? The phrase "mad as a hatter" originated from the felt-hat industry in the 19th century, where mercuric nitrate was used in the process of curing felt. In the process the hat makers became poisoned with mercury from the mercury vapor. Thus, hat makers frequently showed signs of mercury poisoning, such as irritability, anxiety/nervousness, restlessness, exaggerated response to stimulation, emotional instability, lack of self control, irrational behavior, inability to concentrate, vision and hearing impairment, slurred speech, hallucinations, depression, lack of coordination, and tremors. And that’s how we have the "Mad-Hatter" syndrome, which basically is mercury poisoning.

What is Mercury Poisoning? How does Mercury affect the brain growth and development?

Methyl mercury is a common form of organic mercury, which is soluble in lipids and able to cross the blood brain barrier and placenta easily. Organic mercury is absorbed through the digestive tract (mercury-contaminated seafood and food colorings) and sometimes inhaled into the body as vapors (dental amalgam).

Mercury accumulates in the body tissues, and is not easily excreted. Mercury may interfere with the breakdown of catecholamines, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are released as part of the fight-or-flight response by inhibiting selenium-dependent enzymes and S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e), which is needed by catechol-o-methyltransferase to breakdown epinephrine and norepinephrine. The resultant increase in catecholamines cause profuse sweating, persistently faster-than-normal heart beat, increased salivation, and high blood pressure.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that one in six women carries unsafe levels of mercury in her blood. Unborn fetuses are at the greatest risk if they mature in a cesspool of toxins. It is suggested that exposure to methylmercury in utero and through breastmilk is associated with increased learning disability risk.

It has been suggested that autism, which is a common developmental disorder associated with ADHD, is linked to mercury poisoning as well. Read more on mercury poisoning and autism.

Where is Mercury in the Environment?

Believe it or not, mercury is everywhere. It is in our air, soil, water, food and even in our teeth. It is estimated that about 4800-8300 tons of mercury is emitted each year from all sources, including natural and human-generated sources. Mercury vapors are given off during volcanic eruptions. It is a by-product of coal-burning power plants, is used in process of separating gold from impurities in ore in mining industries, used in medications and vaccines as preservatives, and use in dental fillings.

Some people are walking around with mercury in their mouth - dental fillings or amalgam, more commonly known as “silver” fillings. Don’t be fool. It’s not silver. Dental amalgam contains about 40-50% of mercury, only 25% silver and the remaining 25-35% as mixture of copper, zinc and tin. It’s mostly mercury! Mercury vapor leaches from these dental amalgam fillings. This is the significant source of mercury poisoning for children, if you think about the amount of mercury vapor leached throughout the day. Despite the danger of mercury poisoning, dental amalgam is approved for use in most countries, except Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Mercury is in our food supply too. It occurs naturally in nature. However, fish or seafood from contaminated waters has even higher concentration of mercury. Big fish that eat other fish tends to have the highest concentrations of methylmercury. When the big fish eat the smaller fish, it also takes up the mercury accumulated in the small fish. Overtime the big fish keeps accumulating more mercury from the environment and eating more fish. Mercury accumulates in the body because it is not easily excreted or eliminated.

All those colorful delicious snacks for children also contain mercury in the form of artificial food coloring. Most artificial food coloring contains trace amount of mercury, lead, and arsenic. High fructose corn syrup, another common ingredient in snack foods, also contains detectable levels of mercury from processing. You can find these in breakfast cereal, beverages, multivitamins, candies, etc. Some food colorings and high fructose corn syrup are banned in some European countries due to the documented hyperactivity in children after consumption.

Mercury is also found in toys and electronics. In 2004, Kellogg’s was in the news spotlight because one of the toys that they have in their cereal box had a mercury-containing-battery in it. This definitely generated a lot of negative publicity for Kellogg’s.

Other forms of mercury, such as phenylmercury acetate and ethylmercury are commonly used as fungicides, antiseptics or disinfectants and also in a variety of products. Most of these uses have been discontinued. However, mercury compounds are still used as preservatives in some medications and vaccines. Here is a list of mercury-containing medications maintained by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Metallic mercury is also found in ethnic folk medicine for religious practices. Metallic mercury is sold under the name "azogue" in stores (sometimes called botanicas), which specialize in religious items used in Esperitismo (a spiritual belief system native to Puerto Rico), Santeria (a Cuban-based religion that venerates both African deities and Catholic saints), and voodoo.

How to Prevent Mercury Poisoning?

1. Avoid industrialized area, and coal-burning power plants.

2. Avoid fish and shellfish that are loaded with mercury. Eat fish and shellfish that have low mercury content. Find out if your favorite seafood is low in mercury at Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.

3. Avoid artificial food colorings, such as sunset yellow (FD&C Yellow 6), carmoisin (Food Red 3), tartrazine (FD&C Yellow 6), ponceau 4R (food red 7), quinoline yellow (Food yellow 13), and Allura Red AC (FD&C Red 4).

4. Avoid dental amalgam fillings. Choose alternatives, such as resin composite, glass ionomer, resin ionomer, porcelain, and gold alloys. Check with your dental insurance coverage. These alternatives to amalgam are usually more expensive, but most are covered by insurance.

5. Choose vaccines that are preservative-free.

6. If your child already has dental “silver”, find a dentist who is trained to remove the amalgam. Removing silver fillings can be tricky because in the process of removal, more mercury vapor is released.

7. Choose a healthy diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods and drink plenty of filtered or purified water to help facilitate the detoxification process.

If you suspect your child is having mercury poisoning, you may request a heavy metal testing from your child’s pediatrician…

What Else Can You do About Mercury Poisoning?

There are a few supplements that may help improve your body detoxifying system to help rid of the heavy metals and toxins. But these are more preventive measures as we all are exposed to an enormous array of chemical toxins on a daily basis. Each individual are genetically different. Some of us can detox really, really well. Almost nothing can hurt you. Others have so-so detoxification systems, as in children with autism, ADHD and other developmental disorders. It is the latter group that would benefit most from the extra boost of immune-enhancing supplements.

If levels of heavy metal such as lead or mercury were significant, your pediatrician may suggest chelation. You’ve probably read about or heard of chelation. It is a process of removing heavy metals from the body by binding it with another substance.

Sounds easy, right? Not so soon.

Chelation therapy can be a dangerous procedure if not done correctly. There are documented cases of death resulting from chelation therapy. The danger of chelation therapy lies in the fact that the process may drastically remove many other minerals, such as zinc, iron, calcium, etc from the body too. So find someone who has experience and knows what he/she is doing.

Most of all, read and learn more about the environment and planet that we live in. You’ll discover there are many ways how you and your family can help contribute to a healthier and cleaner planet for our future generations.

Return to Environmental Toxins


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